Mind the gap

November 16th, 2006

Across the conference site, furious negotiations are going on … Everywhere I turn, suited people from the across the world speaking every language I can imagine are rushing through corridors, constantly receiving texts and calls, waving papers, perching wherever possible to draft speeches and texts on laptops.

Yesterday there were a host of speeches by Ministers and Heads of State. Kofi Annan was amazing – inspirational in his call for action and critical of “a frightening lack of leadership” in tackling global warming – unusually bold language for a UN Secretary General. My personal “dud of the day” award went to the Canadian Minister Ambrose’s contribution – who claimed her (non-Kyoto) climate plan “recognises the need for urgent action so that we can finally make progress towards our 2012 international obligations”. In reality, this “plan” allows Canada’s emissions to stay above current levels until at least 2020!!

The main point of negotiation is still about setting a firm timetable, to ensure that there is no gap between the Kyoto Protocol and its successor. I’m really involved in an international network of NGOs called the Climate Action Network – including ourselves, Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Tearfund etc . Every morning we meet together for an hour to share intelligence and strategise for the day ahead. Tempers can be frayed because so many of us are up working into the early hours – but there is also a massive sense of solidarity. It’s brilliant to be part of the team.

I am lucky to be in the company of Practical Action colleagues from across the world – including from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe. They are doing an amazing job of influencing their own governments here and “telling it like it is”. Between them they have a wealth of experience in helping poor communities adapt to the effects of climate change and to use renewable energy to escape poverty. It seems their own governments are really valuing the expertise and experience that my colleagues bring to the table. Over dinner last night, Mizan from Bangladesh was telling me how he’s looking forward to continue working with government officials into the future when he goes back home.

This morning, representatives of our team had the chance to meet with Sir Nicolas Stern, who has recently written an important report on the economics of climate change. In a nutshell, it would be much, much more expensive to adapt to the effects of climate change than it will be if we choose to take action now to prevent it. By being here, Sir Nicolas is managing to communicate that message to the international community – which I think is great.

So, tomorrow’s the last day (unless negotiations do have to run into Saturday). Seems funny to think that the culmination of weeks and months of work hangs in the balance. There’s lots of fine detail to tweak, but the big message is the one I hear whenever I travel on the London Underground: “Ladies and Gentlemen … Please Mind the Gap …”

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